Chain Bridge, Budapest

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Sing of Arms and of the Man

I just got back from Prague this morning at 7 a.m. and I'm in the middle of packing for the rest of my European odyssey. The BSM farewell party is this afternoon at 3pm, two and half hours from now, and my train to Kiev leaves Budapest at 6:45pm. Needless to say, I'm in the middle of doing twenty things at once. I'll update yall as I go along, but the posts will probably be sporadic and brief and might not have pictures. In fact, I really won't stay still until I return to San Antonio on June 18. Expect a concluding essay with a deluge of pictures. 

BSM has been a great experience for me. I took my last final for combinatorics two days ago and just found out that I got an A in the class. Hooray! I find out the rest of my grades today at the farewell party. The rest of my time in Europe is looking great. I'll be travelling all over. Here is my itinerary: Kiev, Ukraine to Dniperpetrovsk, Ukraine to Riga, Lativa to Kaunas, Lithuania to Vilnius, Lithuania to Dublin, Ireland to London, England to Zurich, Switzerland and back to Budapest, Hungary before I fly back home to Texas.

I can't wait to get on the road again.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Two Down, One to Go

I took my algebra and MPS finals back to back this past Friday. I had studied all week for them and I'm glad they are over and done with. I enjoyed both classes, but they both had their difficulties. Algebra is a course that every math major must take and is the foundation for much of high-level mathematics. I took it last Fall at UT, but dropped it halfway before the midterm because I couldn't follow the professor during lectures and the textbook wasn't a big help neither. My professor here was the exact opposite, writing detailed proofs on the blackboard and going through many examples. We covered a lot of material and at times it was hard to keep up at his pace, but at least he was thorough. I just hope I don't have to take it again next semester. Its the only class I took this semester that I needed for my degree back home.  

MPS is a whole 'nother story. The problems we had to solve weren't what I was used to at all and I didn't know what to do most of the time. Every now and then I would get one right without any help, but it was tough. It didn't help that half the problems we were solving were contest problems given to Hungarian high school students in the 1930's. The MPS professor is a teacher at Hungary's Fazekas high school, which  offers college-level math classes. The material in my MPS class was just as tough as anything I've taken at UT. I'm going to keep my Hungarian Problem Book, partly as a memento, partly to show it off to anyone who's interested.

And now, my days in the Budapest Semester in Mathematics are numbered. My last final, combinatorics, is at 8am on Tuesday morning. Later that day I'm starting a three and half week journey of European adventure. I'm catching an afternoon train to Prague to go see the Franz Kafka museum and the old town that everyone has been talking about. I'm taking a night bus back to Budapest on Wednesday night and arriving Thursday morning just in time for the BSM farewell party to get my transcript and say goodbye to all of the great friends that I've made here. Later that day I'm taking an overnight train to Kiev, Ukraine and then onto Dneperpetrovsk, Ukraine to see a distant relative, Nataliya Nechukhayeva, and her family. My travel plan after that takes me to Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, England, Switzerland, and back into Budapest to get few last licks before I jet back to San Antonio on June 18. I'm also meeting up with my mom in London, who is flying in to sightsee Europe alongside me.

Sounds epic? I know. The best part is that I hope to travel with only a backpack. I'm not known for travelling light, so this is going to be a real challenge. But that isn't anything compared to what this guy did: Here is a recent article in the New York Times about a guy who walked from Vienna to Budapest along the Danube River. Maybe I'll do that the next time I'm in Central Europe.

Now I have to study. It's 2 days until I'm done with school, 26 days until I return to Texas. Start the countdown. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Return

(Yaawwwnnnn....) Oh, hello. Good morning. Jo reggelt kivanok. It's so nice to see you again. I feel like we haven't spoken in ages. I'm on the home stretch for my semester with BSM and the finish line is in sight. The coursework has become harder and the weather has become nicer, which has lead to some inconsistent study habits to say the least. I've also been travelling a lot. Last time I checked in with y'all I was about to head to Krakow, Poland. I made it there and back with a detour at Auschwitz. I can write a whole essay just on that trip alone, but I'll jot down some thoughts now and save the exposition for later. Two weekends after that I rented a car with eight other people and drove to Croatia, stopping at the beautiful Plitvice Lakes and ancient Split on the Adriatic Coast. In between these trips out of town, I explored Budapest some more as well. On May 1 a May Day carnival was held in Varosliget (City Park). Last week I finally visited the famous Dohany Synagogue in Budapest. Two days later my roommate Andy and I rented bicycles and went statue hunting around Budapest to collect pictures for my Hungarian class project.

I've uploaded nearly 1000 pictures to my online Picasa album as evidence of these escapades. You can always view my entire photo library from time in Europe by clicking on the permanent link on the top right hand corner of this web page, or for convenience you can also click right here. Here are a few of the highlights from the past month:

Thousands of Polish law enforcement officers line the streets of Krakow in preparation for the funeral of a civic leader killed in the tragic plane crash two weeks prior.

At the loading dock inside Birkenau, where 1.1 million Jews and Poles were killed. 400,000 Hungarian Jews died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust, the most Jews from any single country killed there. Most people were unloaded from the trains where I am standing.

Getting a picture with the conductors of the train right before we left from Krakow to Budapest.

Karl Marx greeting people near the literature tables for the local communist party on May Day in Varosliget

 One of the many waterfalls of crystal clear water at the Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

A view of Diocletian's Palace in the historic old town of Split, Croatia. We had just finished swimming in the Adriatic Sea, pictured in the background.

Inside the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest. It is the second largest synagogue in the world and the largest in Europe. As you can see, it has three tiers of seating.

Hanging out with Attila Joszef, the most famous Hungarian 20th Century poet. This statue is directly south of the national parliament on the Danube in Budapest. 

Already reminiscing, my trip to Krakow almost didn't happen. I had been taking my time finishing my homework and nearly flaked out on my buddy Dan to go visit Krakow and Auschwitz. I asked my roommates in passing if they wanted to go also, and they immediately jumped on the adventure. Their enthusiasm and Dan's encouragement got me back on the wagon and onto the train headed for Krakow. 

The four of us were in a 6-person couchette. There were two other people with us, filling up the tiny sleeper compartment. One was an American girl, a student at Smith College who was studying abroad learning computer science in Paris. She was on her spring break and was traveling across Central Europe. The other guy was a Hungarian in his late 20's, traveling in a triangle from Krakow to Ukraine and back to Hungary. He was a transport engineer working for BKV, the Budapest public transit company. He told me that the 4,6 tram line that runs around the big k├Ârut, the tram that I take at least once a day, has the highest traffic of any tram line in the world, and it even has more traffic than Budapest's Metro line 1, which is the second oldest in the world. 

This was my second time to Krakow and Auschwitz. (For reference, the Auschwitz death camps are located in the Polish town of Osweichem, which is an hour's bus ride east of Krakow.) My first trip was with the March of the Living back in April 2006, four years ago to the month. On this trip I saw many of the same sights. We strolled through Kazimierz, the medieval Jewish quarter of Krakow, and visited Auschwitz. By chance, the four of us walked the 3 kilometers from Auschwitz I to the larger Auschwitz II - Birkenau. I had made the same journey four years ago on Holocaust Remembrance Day with ten thousand other Jewish high schoolers from around the world. This time it was just the four of us. For me visiting Poland for the second time was much different from the first, particularly since I had been living in Central Europe for four months before this recent trip. The most lasting thought I had from the first trip was that I could never live in Poland, ever, and I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to live there. I had thought that living in Poland must be like living in a graveyard. Unclean and unholy. Many of my friends on the March of the Living felt the same way. 

Now that I have lived in Budapest, Krakow seemed really cool. I really liked the medieval architecture and the hip vibe that the city had. It was similar to Budapest, but much older and less urban. As I we drank coffee in an outdoor cafe in a small park on a beautiful sunny afternoon, I remembered my aversion to Poland from four years ago. I felt very hypocritical. Hungary experienced nearly as much death and destruction as Poland, and Budapest was nearly flattened during the war. In fact, Hungary was notorious for allowing the fascist Arrow Cross party to deport Jews to their deaths at an alarming rate, quicker than the Germans were doing in other countries. The exhibit at the Auschwitz Museum dedicated to the destruction of Hungarian Jewry was titled "A People Betrayed." The city of Budapest itself is covered with Holocaust memorials, remembering the victims of the Arrow Cross. Does that same gut reflex I had four years ago in Poland apply to my time in Budapest today? Not really. What does that mean? I don't know.

Okay. Must go to sleep. Will try to update more on the Krakow trip, as well as Croatia, and statue hunting in Budapest, and my inevitable trip to the Dohany Synagogue. Wish me luck on finals.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Off to Poland...

Hey everyone. I only have a few minutes before I must catch the overnight train to Krakow, Poland. I'm travelling with my two roommates Mike and Andy as well as my BSM friend Dan Munger. We are going to see the old city and the Jewish quarter of Krakow. Of course, no trip to Krakow would be complete without taking the short bus ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau outside of the city. I've been there once before, four years ago to the month with the San Antonio delegation of the March of the Living, 2006. It will be Dan, Mike, and Andy's first time to visit Auschwitz. I'm sure it will be a very moving experience for all of us. I will post pictures and full essay about the trip when I return. We are taking the 10pm overnight train back from Krakow on Sunday night to arrive at Budapest at 8:30am Monday morning. I have class the same day at 10:15am. Giddy-yap.

On a happier note, I met another AEPi brother today. I wore my burnt orange AEPi hoodie to school and AJ Trenk from California State University-Northridge saw me and introduced himself as a fellow brother. He's in the McDaniel College pre-medical program here for the semester. McDaniel College, which is in Maryland, has a Budapest campus which uses the same building that BSM uses. AJ is a junior at CSUN. I've met many Californian AEPi's from previous conventions and conclaves on the west coast. They are always the most spirited and are the strongest chapters in the country. I knew it would only be a matter of time before I ran into a Pi. On a similar note, last Monday Leah texted me that she spotted a guy wearing a Texas Longhorns baseball shirt at the KFC (yes, thats Kentucky Fried Chicken) by the Keleti train station. I was down the street at school with a minute to go before my Hungarian class started. I briefly, but thoroughly, considered skipping the first part of class and running down the street to say "hook 'em" to the fellow longhorn. I was wearing my Hex Rally shirt at the time and I thought it was appropriate. Alas, just then Erica the teacher walked in to say jo napot kivanok! and class started.

'Till next time, may the eyes of Texas be upon you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Szeged, a Brief Look

This past weekend I went with a small group of BSM students to Szeged, a small college town in southern Hungary. We traveled there to hear a math lecture from a professor of the local university. In case you're wondering, the lecture was filling a two dimensional space with disks (like putting pennies on a table top) and filling a three dimensional space with spheres (like stuffing a shipping box with baseballs). Interesting stuff and worth the 2 and 1/2 hour train ride. Here are some pictures from my weekend at Szeged to tide ya'll over until I have time to write a much longer post.

Lucas and Brittany shop for cool antiques

Waiting for the lecture to start. More people showed up a minute later.

Lucas, Mel, Sam, Mike, Thomas, and Troy at Genius Music Bar

Me in Klauzal Square in Szeged. People are sitting outside eating cake and ice cream behind me.

 Me and Andy at the Pick Salami and Paprika Museum.


View the whole online album of my pictures from Szeged by clicking here.  

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yom Ha'Shoa

Monday was Yom Ha'Shoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Israeli Student Organization in Hungary (ISOH) sent me a Facebook invite to their ceremony held in the original Pava utca synagogue next door to me. After my long day at school, I met Rebecca Garber from BSM at the synagogue to attend it together. The fold-away seats set in the restored synagogue were nearly full of people, young and old. Everyone wore white, which is what the event's organizers had encouraged people to do. The room was about two-thirds full of college aged students with the remaining third made up of families and even some Holocaust survivors. Unfortunately the hour long program was entirely in Hungarian and Hebrew, so neither Rebecca nor I understood anything. After the ceremony ended I looked around for any of the Jewish Hungarians I had met earlier at the community Friday night services, but I didn't see anyone.

I went home quickly to change back into street clothes to go to the Balint Haz. The ISOH had also sent a mass Facebook invitation to watch the movie Europa Europa, the true story of Solomon Perel, a German-Jew who survived the Holocaust by fleeing to Poland, becoming a Russian Komsomol youth officer, was captured by the Germans but hid his Judaism by convincing the soldiers that he was an ethnic German living outside the fatherland. He served as a German-Russian translator on the front and helped capture Josef Stalin's son. Later he was enrolled in the Hitler Youth back in Berlin and fell in love with a teenage girl who was a fervent Nazi. His story is too crazy to be true, and the movie is carried by the nearly fantastical series of events that eventually led to his liberation. A large part of the movie deals with Solomon hiding his circumcision from his friends, which would have immediately given him away. I couldn't help but remember the endless discussions on Philip Roth's The Counterlife that my Jewish literature class had last semester. I would highly recommend The Counterlife for anyone not looking for a simple, straightforward, easy, and certainly not introspective read. 

I had never been to the Balint Haz before. Its only one block off of Andrassy, the famous boulevard for Hungarian aristocrats under the Empire. The Balint Haz is a sort of small Israeli/Jewish community center. Rebecca didn't come to the movie with me, but she was at the Balint Haz anyway participating in her weekly Israeli dance group. Once I found were the movie would be shown, I introduced myself to the few people from ISOH who were setting up snacks. They were all Israeli and spoke English very well and made me feel at home. I had arrived ten minutes early and soon twenty other Israelis had come upstairs to fraternize and watch the movie. Everyone chatted away in Hebrew, and I didn't want to be that guy that made everyone speak English, so I waited for the movie to start. Afterwards 15 people hung around to have a discussion about the movie. They encouraged me to stay, saying that there was a Hungarian man who didn't speak Hebrew so the discussion would be in English for our sakes. 

One of the girls in charge asked people to share stories about the war from their own family's history. This is where I felt really out of place. Almost everyone had a story about how their family traveled around Europe or went to Israel to escape the Nazis and later the communists. Luckily, my grandparents and great-grandparents left Europe in the 1920's, before the rise of Nazism. The discussion then turned to Jewish identity under communism and in today's Hungary. The topic was particularly on people's minds since the day before was the national election in which the extreme right wing party won a 16% share of Parliament. The question of Jewish identity (what is it? how do you define it? can someone be "more" Jewish than another?) never has a clear answer. The conversation among the Israelis and Hungarians became a little heated and comments were flying across the room so fast it was hard to keep track. I wanted to throw in my two cents, but I struggled to find a significant American perspective that I thought they would like to hear. Let's face it, American Jews have it pretty well off compared to other Jews around the world, including Israel. As Americans we thoroughly exercise our First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and speech nearly everyday. Its very rare that I hear stories of true anti-Semitism in America and many of my Jewish friends aren't afraid of displaying their religious observance openly in society. Its taken a while, but today religious discrimination in America is regarded as taboo, something that's archaic. 

In Hungary, however, I have heard a few Hungarian Jews tell me about their fear of openly displaying their Judaism, or telling new friends that they are Jewish. This issue dominated the discussion for a while and several people volunteered to share their own stories and observations. I hadn't realized just how widespread this phenomenon is. Everyone agreed that the situation for Hungarian Jews was improving in spite of the rise of European anti-Semitism. Much of the community's increased strength in the face of intolerance is due to many young and old adults suddenly discovering their Jewish heritage from an aging grandparent's revelation of Jewish blood in the family. A representative of the Jewish Agency who took part in the discussion said that for the past few years, the majority of Taglit Birthright participants from Hungary have been young people who just discovered their Judaism in their 20's. These fundamental differences separate the community that I'm used to in America with that of Hungary and the rest of Eastern Europe. Our backgrounds are totally different. I learn so much from each new person I meet here. Its a little overwhelming.

Now its late again and I have to go to bed. I hope that my blog doesn't reek of "Jewishness." I've tried to post on a variety of subjects about my life in Hungary, but I keep getting drawn back into talking about Judaism. It was already such a big part of my life that its hard to ignore it. Plus, its turning out to be hard to ignore it in Budapest. As one Israeli who I met at the movie screening told me, "everywhere you look in Budapest has some sort of Jewish element to it." He is completely right. As if by natural instinct, nearly all of the bars, dance clubs, music clubs, and restaurants that the BSM students go to are populated by Budapest Jews or are located in the Jewish district. The Israeli said that Budapest has been the most Jewish city he has ever lived in.  Pretty remarkable, eh?

As a throwback to my DJ'ing days at the student radio station KVRX, I'm now taking requests for blog topics. My English teachers would call this a very uncreative move. I call it giving the power to the people.

God Bless America.     

Monday, April 12, 2010

Election Day

Another weekend has ended. How productive was I? Depends on your prospective. Many of the math kids had midterms and homework due on this past Thursday and Friday. I myself had my algebra midterm on Friday. Let's just say that I'm glad its over with and I can move on to making a strong second-half semester push towards that A. While I studied for test in the days leading up to it, I realized that I had clearly allowed the lecture material to slip away over the past few weeks without understanding it. I will try not to make the same mistake in the coming weeks. So, after the test was over I joined dozens of other BSM'ers letting off steam around the 7th district on Friday night.

Our first stop was the "basement bar." It was a tiny, smoke-filled room with a couple of tables occupied by students. There are many places like this all around the city. They are characterized by their claustrophobic interiors, disregard for second-hand smoke, and cheap drinks. Many people were drinking pints of Arany Sozok, the Hungarian Bud Light (but worse), for 200 forints, 1 dollar. I sipped on a shot of Johnnie Walker Red for 350 forints, $1.75. It was severely watered down which made it taste too-smooth-to-be-true. Later we left the basement bar to go to our old favorite, Mumus, which had just opened up its courtyard for the Spring. The Mumus courtyard was a real treat. There were many tables with heat lamps positioned alongside a long bar with a handful of bartenders. A projector displayed static psychedelic images onto the blank wall of the adjacent apartment building, casting a trippy glow over the crowd outside. Cool. Just one more reason why I love coming here.

Saturday I woke up late and went with Christy and Mike to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Glenn Brown exhibit. Glenn Brown is an artist from the UK that I had never heard of until two months ago when prints of his paintings started appearing at tram stations advertising the special exhibit at the Ludwig. This was the last weekend of the exhibit so I wanted to go check out the guy who had the weird paintings. See for yourself.



 
Suffer Well




His paitings are full of swirls of color, providing a sense of motion to the pictures. Many of the scenes and objects he paints are surreal or futuristic, and in fact he mimicks Salvador Dali's technique and expands on it, at least that is what the brochure said. I had a great time spending a Saturday afternoon looking at pretty pictures and checking out a neat museum on the Danube. 

The Ludwig Museum

View of the Danube from the Ludwig Museum

Hey! You found me!

Sunday was election day in Hungary. Since I've arrived here I've tried to understand Hungarian politics in order to gauge how people view policy here. There are campaign posters scattered throughout the city. Hungary has a parliamentary government so there are many political parties each vying for your vote. On the sidewalk outside my apartment in the 9th district there are campaign posters on every street lamp and every kiosk. Many posters are ripped down overnight and a rival party's poster is put up the next day. I have been looking at online news and blogs about Hungarian politics to get a feel for the local political climate. A good website is www.Politics.hu

However, I couldn't vote and had different priorities on Sunday afternoon: cleaning my apartment and my room and finally washing a load of laundry out of desperation. For those in America reading this blog: appreciate the convenience of your huge washers AND dryers. I do now. My room now clean, my clothes now hanging on the drying rack, it was time to do some homework. I had to catch up on some combinatorics and attempt the MPS homework so I headed out with Andy to eat, study, and check out election day festivities. We stopped by the Humus Bar first to eat some falafel, then went to Deak Ter to see if we could find some political rallies. By now it was 7:30pm, thirty minutes after the polls should have closed, but all we found at the city's main square were a some couples sitting on park benches and kids rolling around on their skateboards. We went by parliament and found nothing there as well. Hmmm. We decided to find a coffee shop, do some work, and then come back and look for a rally. Of course, as we searched for the California Coffee Company, our favorite study area, we ran into the Fidesz rally in Vorosmarty Ter. There was a big TV screen and a stage set up for a band. There were about a hundred people milling around but nothing was happening at the moment. We left the rally, found the coffee shop, got our homework done, and returned to Vorosmarty Ter to catch the start of the election results on the TV. I suppose it was just our luck to run into the rally of the victorious political party. For more information on the recent Hungarian election, check out these links.



The second time we came to the rally there were many more people. Many were waving Hungarian tri-color flags and Fidesz flags. Fidesz won the election with 52% of the vote. They are the center-right party, not to be confused with the extreme nationalist Jobbik party that I profiled earlier. Jobbik came in third place with 17% and the Socialists were second with 19%. I'm glad that Jobbik didn't do as well as some predicted, but its still scary to see an outwardly racist, anti-Roma, anti-Semetic, homophobic political party do so well in the first place. Many of their votes came from rural areas which have been hit hard by the economic recession. 

The Fidesz rally in Vorosmarty Ter

Me at the Fidesz rally

A political campaign poster for the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), a conservative Christian democratic party. Here they are comparing the other parties, MSZP (Socialists), Fidesz, and Jobbik to cigarettes. I don't think this sends the same message in Hungary as it does in America. I'm not sure about the exact translation. I'll get back to you on that.

Political poster for the winning Fidesz party. April 11 is election day. The caption reads: "Only the Fidesz!"


Andy and I stayed at the rally for a while to soak up the political fervor many of the supporters around us were expressing. As we left to go home I saw a guy selling various Hungarian pins. I wanted to buy one but many had the Trianon-era Hungarian Empire or the tural bird on them, both of which can conjure up some nationalist images. While I thought about which pin to take we met some American college professors who were looking to buy pins also. One professor asked the merchant how much for a Hungarian flag he was selling. He said that the Hungarian flag costs 2000 forints, the Fidesz flag costs 1000 forints. The market has spoken. The professors were from Nazareth College in Rochester, NY, and were looking to open up a Hungarian campus in a town near Lake Balaton. They all taught in the liberal arts and were a little shocked when Andy said that we were in Budapest to learn math. Some of them picked up a Fidesz button and stuck it on their coats. I wasn't ready to choose sides yet, so I chose a politically neutral pin with Petofi Sandor on it commemorating the 1848 Revolution. Maybe Austrians might take offense. Just don't tell the Governator. 

For more pictures of the Ludwig Museum, the election night rally, Memento Park, Paris, or Switzerland, check out my Picasa Web Album here or click the permanent link in the upper right-hand corner of the blog.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Memento Park

What a trip. I've returned to Budapest from a great spring break adventure. Back to the daily grind of math classes. I'll post the spring break pictures (there are A LOT of them) when I get the opportunity. Right now I need to get in the mood to learn some math. Today, however, wasn't one of those days. Kaitlin and Rob arrived in Budapest last night and today I took them to Memento Park in southwest Buda.

I had always wanted to go there myself, but never got around to it until today. It takes forever to get there by public transport. Memento Park is an outdoor exhibit of several communist statues that were removed from public space in Budapest after the fall of communism in 1989. The new government made the wise choice to preserve their history by saving the statues instead of following many of their eastern European neighbors who destroyed them, though they still located the park in the farthest, least accessible part of the city. I bought a guide to read about the statues, which is a history lesson in itself. I'm glad I visited Memento Park soon after I returned from western Europe to see the differences in culture relative to government of those countries. One interesting thing about this collection of statues, as opposed to the statues I saw at the Louvre in Paris, is that each statue at Memento Park is there because it was detested by the public, not honored.

There was a small indoor exhibit as well, the most intriguing park was a continuously playing clips from Hungarian Soviet secret police training videos. They showed how to properly search an apartment for contraband and how to discretely conduct surveillance of a suspect. The video is an eerie reminder of the paranoia and fear that Hungary and many Soviet countries endured under communist rule, the fear that Kati Marton's book captured in the true story of her family's experiences in the 1940s and 1950s. I read today that her book is set to be made into a movie. I can't wait to see it.     

I also thought of the Slavin Hill monument in Bratislava, Slovakia, which was built on the mass graves of Soviet soldiers who died liberating the city from the Germans in World War 2 and commemorates their sacrifice. The Slavin monument has the same Soviet imagery as Memento Park, though each serves it own purpose. There is clearly more for me to learn and discover about the history and culture of Europe.

But first, algebra awaits.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ma Vie a Paris (for a few days)

Its Easter Sunday in Paris and the skies have finally opened up and let sunshine into the city. It had been raining off and on in Paris since I got here on Thursday and when it didn't rain it was still very cloudy. Today, however, is an exception. As I sit in an interent cafe by the Pantheon using an American keyboard (win!), let me recap the past four days in the City of Lights.

I arrived in Paris on the TGV Lyria from Basel, Switzerland, at 1:30pm on Thursday afternoon. The train ride was nearly full and our seats were reserved. I happened to sit with an American family (mom, dad, and high school daughter) in a section of four seats. They were from Denver and had just stayed with relatives on the opposite bank of Lake Zurich and were now visiting Paris for the first time. The daughter is taking French in high school but claimed to be unable to translate what the French family across from us was saying. I told them that my mom and uncles attended Cherry Creek High School back in the day and the girl said that Cherry Creek is their main rival. The dad asked me if I had heard anything about the NCAA men's basketball tournament; we were both out of the loop. (note: right now the final game is between Butlter and Duke). We had a nice chat and watched the French countryside fly by as the train sped on. The train didn't travel very fast at first -- a litte faster than nearby cars, 70-90 mph -- but once we passed Strasbourg the track was straight line and the TGV started to mean business. We must have been going over 150 mph, but I'm not exactly sure how quick. I have a video I took of the farms speeding by so you can analyze it if you want to calculate the train's speed.

As part of the spring break adventure, I arrived in Paris without a place to stay for the night. I had booked a hostel for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, but they hadn't had any vancancies for Thursday, so I was on my own. I had planned to contact two very large hostels in central Paris for any cancellations. Out of hundreds of reservations there has got to be at least one cancellation, right? Wrong. Both hostels were completely booked. I asked the man at the Gare de l'est (East Train Station) tourism office where I could stay. He said the Hotel La Fayette was down the street as cheap as the hostel. I walked over there and booked their last single room for the night. After dropping my luggage, I walked toward the Seine waiting for my friend Alina from UT who is studying in Paris to get out of class at 5pm. We rendevous'ed at Notre Dame and walked around the Marias, stopping in the Luxembourg Gardens. Its amazing how the hustle of bustle of a huge city like Paris can dissapear once you step into a park. 
The next day I met up with my Budapest roommate Andy who was in Paris visiting his cousin who was getting married that weekend. We went up in the north part of the city to Montmarte, which is a neat little area on top of a hill with a big cathedral and lots of little shops and cafes surrounding it. It was cloudy but we got a great view of the city. I had to leave Andy to meet my other friends who were also visiting Paris, Rachel (from UT and studying in Dublin) and Kaitlin and her boyfriend Rob (both from Baylor studying in Scotland). I've known Rachel and Kaitlin from high school and it was great seeing them again in Europe.  Together we went inside the famous Notre Dame cathedral, on Good Friday no less. The place is huge. Paris is filled with old cathedrals, but this one takes the cake. Hundreds of people walked around inside the building as well as sat in chairs and silently prayed. Multilingual priests were available for people to give confessions. I learned that the building is over 650 years old and it took 200 years to build. No matter what religion you may adhere to or lack thereof, its hard not to be overwhelmed with awe at Notre Dame's grandeur. Afterwards, we split up; Rachel and I went to the Louvre and Kaitlin and Rob took care of their hostel and train bookings. 

If there was a ranked list of things to do in Paris, visiting Notre Dame and the Louvre Museum would take two of the top three spots. Among other things, the Louvre is the famous home to the Venus de Milo, Hammurabi's Code, and the Monna Lisa. We decided to head for all three and stop along the way if we saw anything else interesting. Even just sticking to that short intinerary, the quantity of paintings, sculptures, and ancient objects we saw was exhausting. We left the museum at closing time and reconnected with Kaitlin and Rob to go find a pub. Looking at the trusty Lonely Planet's Guide to Western Europe Guidebook, we saw a music pub in the Latin Quarter which looked interesting. We were almost there when we came across a roundabout lined with pubs and a college crowd. Good enough, we thought, and picked one out. The pub was small and catered to a young adult crowd with plenty of tables. Budapest is filled with pubs like this one, except that there they are filled with cigarette smoke while in Paris you can breathe easy: there is no smoking in bars. We had a lot of fun unwinding from the day's sightseeing and we agreed to start the next day at the Eiffel Tower.

That night was my first night in the hostel, and unfortunately I didn't get that great of a sleep due to the big guy snoring in the bunk below me. This guy was loud. If I had wanted to talk to someone I would have had to shout over his snores. Then he started talking and yelling in his sleep. Here was the dilemma: what is the proper etiquette for sleeping in a dorm room with four beds and one guy is severely disrupting the others with his snoring? Do you wake him up? Shouldn't he know that he snores that badly and therefore booked a single room as a courtesy? I decided to let him sleep and I woke up the next day perturbed. Oh well, time to go see the Eiffel Tower! 

Before I knew it I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. It is one of the few tall buildings that dominates the Parisian skyline. Thousands of tourists from all over the world crowded around its base waiting in line to go up to the top. We decided against waiting to go up the tower since it would have taken all day and it could've started raining at any moment, hardly ideal conditions. Instead we visited the original Moulin Rouge and tried to go the catacombs on the southern side of the city but there were closed when we got there. As a replacement, we went to Montmarte, the second time for me, and when the subway car came above ground the sun had come out and a rainbow appeared over the city. My return visit wasn't a waste since it was much more enjoyable due to the better weather conditions. Later the four of us and Alina had a beer in a cafe near the Bastille. The next day Rachel, Kaitlin, and Rob were due to leave Paris. Rachel was going back to Ireland while Kaitlin and Rob were continuing east and will be in Budapest on Tuesday morning. I plan on taking them to Kadar with my usual lunch group for their first taste of Hungarian food.
Today I have been on my own so far. While everyone went to church for the Easter Sunday service, I slept in. The night before I met my roommates before I dozed off. The snorer was still there -- turns out he is Italian -- and another guy named Fernando was from Monterey, Mexico. I told him I had been there a few years ago and still talk about going to Papa Bill's Restaurant and Bar to eat chicken fajitas and drink Indio. He said he had been to San Antonio as a kid and remembered going to Fiesta Texas and taking a riverboat ride downtown. The three of us talked for a while, but I intentionally dozed off mid conversation in order to fall asleep before the snoring Italian did. My plan worked and I didn't wake up the next day until he had gotten up and left the room. My first stop today was the Rodin Musuem, which is filled with statues and sculptures by Auguste Rodin. His most famous work is The Thinker, which sits on a tall pedestal surrounded by green trees and bushes. The weather today has been great and it was very relaxing to walk through the museum's garden admiring the sculptures. Afterwards I got a Nutella and banana crepe and headed to the Pantheon. The Pantheon is over 200 years old and was first built as a holy place but is now used as a national shrine to commerate the famous people throughout French history. Many famous French men and women are buried underneath it in the crypt, including Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and Lagrange, a famous mathematician whose theorems I need to learn for my algebra midterm on Friday. Thanks buddy. The Pantheon looks like an American-style capitol building and has a large columned dome. I took a tour up the top of the dome to get a panoramic view of the city. The relatively nice weather has been worth the wait. 

My trip to Paris isn't finished yet. I will post a final update as well as pictures from throughout my spring break once I return to Budapest tomorrow. Until then, au revoir.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Aufedersein, Switzerland.

My current time in Switzerland has come to an end. I say current time because I am almost positive that I will be back in June to finish climbing mountains, eating cheese, and looking at clocks. I am leaving tomorrow morning to take the TGV Lyria to Paris to start Phase II of spring break.

I dont think I have slept this well since I got to Europe two months ago. I cannot thank the Schlessingers enough for their hospitality in Zurich. Susan, the mom; Patrick, the dad; and Charlie, the kid all showed me around Zurich and greater Switzerland and I have seen a lot of beautiful countryside. The other two kids, Sarah and David, are busy with college in the US and A. On Sunday, Patricks parents came over for lunch. The are a really neat couple. The grandpa, Papu, is Swiss and the grandma, Mamu, is French. They have been married for sixty years and live in Papus childhood home Baden, a town a little to the north of Zurich. Conversation was conducted in French, German, Swiss German, and English. Multilingual dinner conversations would become the norm for rest of my stay in Switzerland. The country is composed of four regions, the Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansch regions, all of which speak their own respective language. Since Switzerland is small country (you can reach just about any point with a three hour drive), a two hour drive will bring you to a different region where the language is different and the culture is different. Zurich is located in the Swiss German region, the largest, and I did not have a chance to visit any of the other regions, though I know I will on a subsequent visit.
On Monday, Susan took me past Lucerne to Engelburg, which is in the middle of the country. The town is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and we saw dozens of people carrying skis and snowboards just coming off or going up to the mountain. The town was filled with hundred-year-old houses and the greenest fields I have ever seen. A walled-in monastery sat on the edge of town and several little kids ran around the towns streets being let out of school. Many children, including those younger than ten years old, walk to school on their own protected only by a fluorescent vest to alert drivers. The entire area looked like the movie The Sound of Music. I havent seen it, but thats what Susan told me. That night I attended a Passover seder at Tal, a local college student who is helping out Charlie. His family is also very multicultural. His mom is from Atlanta, his dad is from Sweden, his step-dad is from Paris, and he has many cousins in Israel. We told the story of the Exodus in English, Hebrew, and Swiss German. About ten people attended the seder, including a fellow University of Texas graduate of 1998. He works for the recruiting department for the Zurich branch of Google, which is the main European headquarters. The other Swiss at the table were perplexed when we talked about American football, Mack Brown and Rickie Williams. I had a great time but was relieved when the seder ended at 1:45am. I ended up missing the last train home and spent the night at their house.

Tuesday morning I made it back home, still in a suit, and crashed on my bed. Later that afternoon I went into Zurich to meet up with Charlie and his friends. We hung out around town and then I took the train to the Rosens house for the second seder. The Rosens are originally from England and they all speak with an English accent and like to make jokes. Their rendition of Had Gadyah was the capstone to the night. They mimicked the sounds of the animals and objects in the song, such as: Then came the stick that beat the dog (whack!) that ate the cat (meow!) that ate the kid (baaa!) that my father bought for two zuzim (how much!), one kid, one kid. During the seder I talked to Joel, who is 19 years old and is currently serving in the Swiss military. Switzerland still conscripts every able bodied man when they are 18 years old. They serve initially for 6 months (I think) and then serve a few weekends a year for 20 years. In fact, I have reading a book I found in the Schlessingers house about Switzerland in World War 2. Did you know that Switzerland mobilized every man aged 16 to 50 and trained them to be marksmen? The Swiss had fortifications in the mountains and pledged to blow up all the bridges and tunnels in the country and wage guerrilla warfare if the Germans had invaded. Today, Joel told me, his training includes how to make IEDs and how a platoon of soldiers  (30 soldiers) can destroy an entire enemy battalion (1,500 soldiers). Hows that for neutrality?

Today, Wednesday, we visited Mamu and Papu in Baden, which is a 15 minute train ride from Zurich. They live on a hill in an old Swiss house. The house is over 90 years old and is three (or four) stories with several rooms.  The house itself is great and has an amazing view of Baden and the nearby mountains, but the things that fill the house are even more interesting. They have several dozen volumes of photo albums and thousands of books in several languages neatly stacked on shelves in every room. Papu had a European billiard table, which is different from an American pool table. This one didnt have any pockets, just a rectangular felt table. You play with only one red and two white balls, one for you and one for your opponent. The object is to hit your white ball so that it hits both the red ball and the other white ball. Each time you succeed you earn a point. The grandparents also maintain a collection of old military hats and muskets, both friendly and foe. One neat find is the 100 year old ritual handwashing basin for Shabbat that is installed on the third floor. I fully enjoyed both our spaghetti dinner and my final night in Switzerland.

Now it is very late and I have to go to bed. Tomorrow I will be in a whole nother country where the people speak a different language. Phase II, commence.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

First Impressions of Switzerland

Guten Morgan. Im in Switzerland typing with a German keyboard, so I will make this short. The train ride over here was a lot of fun. I was with five other people in a 6-bed couchette, which is a small compartment with six fold out bunk beds. There were three Hungarians, a guy and two girls; two Swiss, one older guy and a younger guy; and me. Only the older Swiss guy spoke English and after a while I tried to communicate with the Hungarians and got mixed results. We had a lot of fun when I brought out my Hungarian phrasebook and flashcards. My Hungarian learning still has a long way to go. A funny moment came when I tried to ask one of the Hungarian girls in Hungarian if she was going to Switzerland to visit friends or family, except that she thought I asked her if she had a boyfriend. Further attempts to correct myself only resulted in more confusion. Finally we got Zurich.

In short, nem vagyunk Magyarorszagon (Were not in Hungary anymore). Im at the Schlessingers apartment overlooking Lake Zurich and the view is amazing. Switzerland is so much more green, orderly, and is much, much cleaner than Hungary. In Budapest there is graffiti, trash, and dog poo all over the place, not to mention some of the buildings havent been renovated in decades and are sometimes literally falling apart. I never thought that there would be such a huge difference  between  Western Europe and the former Soviet countries. Switzerland reminds me a model train village. Everything seems deliberately put together and everything works like a clock, so go figure. I took the commuter train from the Zurich train station to Bach where the Schlessingers live and the train left right on time and arrived right on time. The trains in Budapest are also very punctual, but sometimes it is as if by accident whereas in Switzerland it appears that punctuality and organization is another law of nature. Im having a great time here and the Schlessingers have been great hosts. They took me to Lucerne to walk around in the old town and across the famous covered wooden bridge. We also went to the transportation museum and then for dinner went to a neighbors house for a "BBQ." Im kidding but the food was very good. One odd tidbit is that here people serve hot sauce and horse radish from a squeeze tube, like toothpaste. Though to be fair, in America we have cheese in a can, which in Switzerland much seem like a sin. The lake is so blue and the scenery is so pretty, its nearly impossible to not be in a good mood. To cap it off, a famous Swiss tennis player owns the apartment one floor up from us. Yes, that one. Ill let yall know if there are any sightings.

Friday, March 26, 2010

...And They're Off!

Whew! Three big reliefs today. First, I took my combinatorics midterm and feel good about it. The problem that stumped most people in the class, including me, was creating a recurrence relation to model the breeding of goats. I knew I should have paid attention to Sydney and Rachel and their 4-H activities. Yet another example of "what goes around comes around." Second, today marks the start of spring break. As usual, my Friday was packed. I had my combinatorics midterm bright and early at 8am followed by algebra at 10am and mathematical problem solving at 12 noon. I have an algebra midterm the Friday after I get back and homework up the waz-zoo in between, but I don't have to worry about any of that until later. Finally, the best news. I've been accepted back into UT for the Fall 2010! I took my time mailing in my application for admission, and after a few days of deliberation the University deemed me fit to return to campus. Thank you, Dr. Powers! Everyone in BSM is diffusing across Europe today. There are groups going to Greece, Istanbul, Casablanca, Prague, Latvia, and of course Amsterdam. Me? I'm going to Switzerland.

For the first part of spring bring I'm taking the train to Zurich today at 7pm. I'm going to go visit family friends from Del Rio, the Schlessingers, whom I haven't seen in a long time. The train is an overnighter and I'm arriving at 7:20am. I have a new book to keep me company: The Door by Magda Szabo who is a literary giant in Hungary, at least that's what the "About the Author" section said. I reserved a couchette on the train, which I am told is a bunk bed in a small compartment of bunk beds. We will see just how small this 6-bunk compartment really is. The Schlessinger's house overlooks Lake Zurich and very I'm excited for some tranquility. I've been invited to one of their friend's homes for Passover Seder on Monday night. Other than that I have no specific plans in Switzerland. On April 1 I'm riding the super fast TGV train to Paris to meet up with Rachel Hartnett, Kaitlin Speer, Alina Slavik, Ali Petlin and whoever else I know that will be in Paris at the time. I will update ya'll when I get to Zurich and throughout my travels this spring break. Let the whirlwind adventure begin.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March Madness

Hey, hello! How are you? It's been a long time since I last posted anything substantial. The month of March was unexpectedly hectic with math homework and a little longing for Rudy's BBQ, but I think that's over for now. Well, the math homework will keep coming but I'm looking forward to it now believe it or not. I've been out and about around Budapest and central Europe (Bratislava!) and have a lot to share. Here is a quick rundown.

On the night of Purim, I dressed up in costume and went with Rebecca Graber to the White Angel club to go to a costume party. The party was sponsored by the Israeli Student Organization in Hungary. The club was packed and several people wore Israeli-themed costumes, such as a Bamba snack bag. I took advantage of being outside of Texas for Purim and went as a cowboy. I had my new boots and beltbuckle as well as my burnt orange UT button-down. I had to go to a costume store to rent a pathetic excuse for a cowboy hat, though I know I really shouldn't be talking. I'm not an authority on the subject. Rebekah (my cousin) if you're reading, I know. You don't have to say it. 

Hag Samay'ach and Hook 'em Horns!

The next day I went to eat a hearty Hungarian Sunday afternoon lunch at Agi Angyal's home in Buda. She is the cousin of George Fodor, a Hungarian man living in San Antonio whom I met through my Grandpa Max. Agi, her husband, and her friend treated me fantastically well. The food was delicious. It was also really cool listening to them talk about their lives in Budapest and the differences between the Hungarian and American cultures. Thanks again to the Angyal family.

Me with Agi Angyal

The following weekend I took the plunge and visited Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. I went with my roommate Andy and my friend Tao. We took the train early Saturday morning and two and half hours later we disembarked in another country. It was my first time to travel outside Hungary since I arrived in Europe in January. Overall the trip was amazing. It was full of adventure, spontaneity, and mystique. We met up with another group of BSM'ers Madav, Will, and Paul. Of course, it takes travelling between countries to see just how much cultural diversity there is in Europe. After spending two months desperately trying to learn Hungarian, I get to Slovakia and have to start from square one. Slovak and Hungarian have nothing in common; Hungarian doesn't really have anything in common with any language except Finnish and even then only a little. Plus, there is some strife between Slovaks and Hungarians from the history of the Hungarian Empire, which once extended into Slovakia. The Hungarian Empire even moved its capital to Bratislava, then Pressburg, when the Turks invaded and controlled Budapest. So not only didn't I speak Slovak, but I was trying not sound Hungarian (can you imagine?) to the locals.

Bratislava is definitely a hidden gem to Americans travelling in Europe. Its relatively small and compact with only 500,000 people. Anywhere in the old town and around the castle overlooking it is within a 20 minute walk from the nearest hostel and/or bar. We toured the Old Town, saw both funny statues and somber monuments. 

By the castle next to Old Town. The "UFO" Bridge is behind me.

Most inspiring was the Jewish Museum located in one of the last remaining original buildings below the castle. The only other original building houses the Museum of Clocks. We went there too, and it was exactly as advertised. The Jewish Museum holds hundreds of artifacts and mementos from Bratislava's once large Jewish community. There are dozens of Torah scrolls, siddurim, tallit, and Torah pointers. There were even pictures of the large synagogue with the castle in the background. The synagogue was torn down in the 1960's or 1970's along with much of the historic Jewish area of town to make way for the "UFO" bridge across the Danube. Next to the bridge at the site of the old synagogue is a black memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims and a relief of the synagogue that used to stand there. 

The museum guide directed us down towards the river to visit the Mausoleum of Chatam Sofer, who was a well known orthodox rabbi in Bratislava in the early 1800's. His sons were the rabbis of Bratislava until the 1940's. The mausoleum has been recently renovated and is housed in a new easily accessible structure just off of the main road along the river. Tao, Andy, and I walked over there and luckily found a person inside working as a guide. He told us about the history of the Bratislava Jewish community and about the history of the mausoleum. It is all that remains of the old Jewish cemetery. During World War 2 and the communist era of Czechoslovakia, many efforts were made to protect the graves. They were even entombed with a concrete shell while construction went on around it to build a tunnel for trams. The guide told us that after the war a few thousand Jews survived in Bratislava though nearly all of them emigrated after the war. Today the community has only 300 people.

After we had toured the mausoleum, we had only an hour and fifteen minutes to get back to the train station, which was a thirty minute walk away. No sweat, I thought. Let's go check out the Slavin war memorial on the way to the train station.... Not so fast, my friend! The Slavin memorial was dedicated by the Soviets to the Russian soldiers who died fighting the Germans to retake Bratislava in World War 2. The bodies of a few thousand Soviet soldiers are buried at the memorial, which is at the top of one of the tallest hills in Bratislava. While the memorial wasn't very far as the crow flies from the train station, we had to walk switchbacks through residential neighborhoods to get to it. Meanwhile the clock was ticking and we were running out of time until we had to catch the train back to Budapest. We started jogging up the hill and, exasperated, we reached the top with only 30 minutes to spare. It was worth it.

On Slavin Hill overlooking Bratislava

After 10 minutes of sightseeing, we only had 20 minutes until our train departed. Like in a scene from the Bourne Identity we ran down the hill. I glanced at my tourist map and yelled out directions to Tao and Andy, telling them to turn onto streets and go through unmarked pedestrian walkways. The sprint down the hill reminded me most a level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 where you get trapped unarmed in a dangerous favela in Columbia and must sprint though houses and from roof to roof to reach your escape helicopter. It's a lot more intense in real life than on a video game I'll tell you what. Somehow, we made it down the hill and found ourselves where we had started the morning before in front of the train station. We collapsed on the station platform at 3:47pm for our 3:54pm train. At 3:51 the train arrived and at 3:54 the train left with us on it. We had escaped from Bratislava. I can't wait for the sequel.         

That was almost three weeks ago now. My weekdays are spent doing math homework and pretending to do math homework. I like all my classes and find combinatorics and mathematical problem solving especially nifty. I have, however, slacked off on my Hungarian learning. I only have Hungarian class on Monday and we had the March 15 national holiday two Mondays ago and before that I had skipped class since I wasn't feeling well. I had Hungarian class yesterday and the next two Mondays we have off due to spring break and Easter Monday. That means I'll have had one Hungarian class over a span of five weeks. Yikes. I'm going to do my part and back on the Hungarian wagon as soon as I can. Part of that involves me switching my analytical number theory class to audit. Its by far my hardest and most advanced math class. Its basically a graduate course and requires a lot of time put towards the homework and understanding the lectures, time which I don't have right now. Tomorrow I'll turn in the requisite paperwork and that'll be that. Once that is done I will have three math classes for credit, one for audit, and Hungarian for credit, which is still a decently packed schedule. I've been staying in town for the past two weekends to do homework while everyone else has bolted for weekend excursions. 


The Hungarian Parliament on March 15, 2010

I am glad, though that I was in town for March 15, which is a national holiday for Hungary and marks the start of the failed revolution against the Austrians in 1848. Its the Hungarian 4th of July and there is lots of flag waving. All the museums put on special presentations with re-enactments of events during the revolution. The thing to see, though, didn't have to do with Hungary's past. It had to do with Hungary's future. All the major political parties use the national holiday as an opportunity to put stump speeches in anticipation of the April general election, particularly the nationalist right wing party, Jobbik. We had been warned by Dezso, the BSM director, to watch out for rioting crowds and police riot controls. I had been hearing a lot about the growing extreme right wing in Hungary, which is partly based in the Jobbik political party but also in the Hungarian Guard, a citizen brigade of supporters. I rolled out of bed Monday afternoon, secured my passport on my person, and headed out to Deak Square to look for the hubbub. I found it. Too late maybe for the active demonstration in the cordoned-off street, but there were plenty of Jobbik supporters walking (or marching) with flags and banners.

By Deak Square, March 15.


Jobbik supporters with the Arpad Stripes.

The Holocaust Memorial Center had a temporary exhibit discussing the misuse Hungarian nationalist images for the extreme right wing movement. One of the images is the Arpad Stripes, which are red and white horizontal stripes. They have been used to represent the Hungarian Empire for hundreds of years, but also recently has their use invoked xenophobia and ultra-nationalism. A few hundred people in the crowd were wearing matching army fatigues and combat boots. I wasn't in any danger downtown walking around. Everyone was walking around amicably and quietly as if taking a stroll. In fact, the atmosphere seemed eerily peaceful, and a bit unnerving. I don't think there were any riots that day, but the rally was still a sight to see and I'm glad I was a witness to it. The opposition Fidesz conservative party and the smaller Jobbik ultra-right wing party are expected to win big over the ruling democratic socialist MSZP, which has been plagued with a lot of public incompetency and corruption. Yes, I am paying attention to Hungarian politics. Once you have the bug, you can't stop it. For more info, check out the Budapest Times or Politics.hu

That was two weekends ago. This past weekend was spent more light heartedly. For the first time since I arrived in Europe, Budapest had a truly gorgeous day with an afternoon high temperature of the mid 60's Fahrenheit; I couldn't let it go to waste. I finally made it out to Margaret Island to play some touch football with a few BSM'ers and some Corvinus friends. Margaret Island lies in the middle of the Danube north of parliament and is an oasis of greenery in the urban jungle that is Budapest. Its a well deserved recreation hot spot of the city. We found an open field and played some scrimmages. At first we only had five people: myself, Dan, Will, Paul, and Rebecca. After an hour and half of running around aimlessly, Kumar and Neal and ten of their Corvinus friends showed up and we played an actual pickup game. Corvinus is a university in Budapest and they offer many classes in English for international students. The BSM'ers know them since Kumar, who goes to Corvinus in Budapest, attends Denison back in America with some of the other BSM students. It felt great to play football on such a beautiful day. I hadn't had physical exercise for a while, and it showed. I'm still sore from all the running. I need to treat my body right from now on. Seriously.

Whew. A big update. Sorry for the massive blog cliffhanger this month. I'll be better at updating my journey's more regularly from now on. Promise. Scout's honor (Full disclosure: I was never a Boy Scout). I'll leave you with something to look forward to, as I am looking forward to it very much. This Friday is the beginning of spring break for us and I'm heading to western Europe. Civilization at last. First I'm taking an overnight train to Zurich, Switzerland, to stay for five days with the Schlessingers who are family friends with my mom back in day from Del Rio, TX. After that I'm taking the TGV to go to Paris to see a duo of UT friends who are studying abroad in Paris and an extra flying in from Dublin, Ireland. 

Until then, viszonlatasra. 



   In front of the Dohany Synagogue, representing Texas AEPi.

Differential Geometry in NY Times

Think Globally - Opinionator Blog - NYTimes.com

Many of my friends are taking this class at BSM. Here is some insight to what math majors do all day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010